An Interview with Hit Songwriter and Indie Artist, Roy August

For the first time in his life, hit songwriter, Roy August, has songs on the charts that he is singing himself. Indie Connect interviewed the ‘new star’ on his long career in the business.

IC: How long have you been in the music business, and how did you get started?

Roy: I’ve been in the music business since 1959. I was in junior highschool, and myself and two other kids played a dance in a little teen center called The Wedge. I could only play lead guitar on one string at a time.

Howard and Bill were playing rhythm guitar and drums. It was very nerve racking.

A few years later, I was playing nightclubs. In the St Louis area I met a singer, Chris Christian, who became a lifetime musician buddy. He took me to meet blues guitarist Ace Wallace, a legend with his own unique style. Each time we went to St. Louis, I picked up more lessons on playing guitar. And through Chris, and other friends, I met a lot of legendary R&B and blues people in that area.

I appeared on the KSTL Curly Nelson show. John Hartford was in charge of the station then. All the guys with hangovers from Friday night gigs came for their turn on the radio. It was a good time in my life.

One night, Chris Christian, Ace Wallace and I went to a club on the outskirts of East St. Louis. That night I got to jam on bass with Ike Turner’s band. It was GREAT!

I blended in with the St. Louis music crowd. I used to play all night long at a club called Stallings Park. St Louis bars closed at 12 o’clock. People came in groves across the bridge into Illinois where it was wide open. I would make deals with musicians who wanted to romance the girls – If they’d show me how to play my guitar licks, bass licks or drums, I’d take over for them while they had fun with the girls. I switched instruments all night and got lessons from awesome musicians at the same time.

I used to write songs for our teen band, The New Galaxies. We landed on Mercy Records, and opened for a movie called ‘Topo Gigio’ – the mouse! They’d set up a stage in the theaters. I played drums. My first 45 rpm single in 1965 was ‘Listen To Me Cry’/’We’ll Have Soul’.

IC: Who were your songwriting mentors?

Roy: I loved the music of Roy Orbison, The Four Seasons, Bobby Vee and Hank Williams. And later, The Beatles, Beach Boys etc. I practiced my writing inspired by all of them.

I was asked to come to Nashville by my friend, Jimmy Helms. I moved here in 1969, after coming to DJ conventions with him. Jimmie was a fantastic country writer with the Wilburn Brothers Company. I caught a bus here. It was DJ convention time, and Jimmie told me to ask for the Wilburn brothers when I got here. So with suitcase in hand, I went in the Andrew Jackson hotel and asked Red Foley and Doyle Wilburn where I might find the Wilburn brothers. Security threw me out.

Before I met the Wilburn brothers and wrote for their company, I met Chuck Glaser, of Tom Paul and the Glaser Brothers. Chuck Glaser taught me how to construct my songs. Chuck is a genius at songwriting. Roy Baham also taught me song construction. Later on I had help from so many music greats in the golden age of country music, such as Leslie, Teddy, Doyle and Lester Wilburn. They were really great to my family and I. Once they made me a key to their office, and I slept there until I found a daytime job at Davis Cabinet Co.

IC: You’ve been taught by some of the all time songwriting masters. What would you say are the most vital tips that they gave you?

Roy: Chuck Glaser taught me that a hit song is one that everybody can relate to. What you’re trying to get across has got to be crystal clear to anyone, in any walk of life. Leslie Wilburn taught me to put feeling into a song. Others taught me so much. Sammy Kahn taught me how to pattern, speed write and co-write with anyone, living or dead. Owen Bradley taught me the value of getting your craft right so the singers don’t stumble over the lyrics (a lesson I learned the hard way). Doyle Wilburn let me pitch songs one day when their song plugger, Johnny Russell, had the flu. So I learned how major label producers hear other peoples work. And Jimbeau Hinson taught me that its good karma to help others reach their dreams.

So many people taught me so much, and for that I am forever grateful. Jimbeau and I had three records together from Sure Fire Music, ‘Leave Me or Love Me Alone’ and two releases on life in Baltimore.

IC: You co-wrote ‘Fancy Free’, a #1 song for the Oak Ridge Boys, with Jimbeau Hinson. How did that song come about and how did it get cut?

Roy: Fancy Free was a miracle to me. It was at a time when I was struggling and almost ready to give up and leave town. I had a lyric for the song, which I took to the Oak Ridge Boys’ office. At the time, Jimbeau was the manager. The Oaks were totally into Gospel then. I gave my four verses and a chorus to Jimbeau that day so long ago, and he said he’d co write it with me. He offered an equal split on the writer’s shares and the Oaks would get the publishing. It was a done deal. We worked on it until it was two verses and a chorus. Then it sat in a file for 8 years before it got recorded! When it did, it helped both of us. It jump-started Jimbeau and his legendary career, and helped me raise my family. It also was the Oak Ridge Boys’ first #1 hit!!

IC: How much do you write these days?

Roy: I write 5 songs a day, almost 7 days a week. I’ve been doing that since 1970. I complete 3, start one and get one out to a publisher. But, I write them all in different fields using the Sammy Khan pattern method. I also get to the bookstores to find unique titles to use instead of lines or phrases that have been over-used.

IC: How many songs have you written or co-written?

Roy: I haven’t a clue how many I have co written. I have given hundreds of songs away to writers who are just learning, so they can approach a publisher with something good. I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of co writers. I just like to see folks make it in a tough business. So far I have written approximately 11,000 songs since the sixties.

IC: How many cuts have you had altogether?

Roy: Through the years, going back to the sixties, around 700. They were mostly indie cuts.

I am never happy with my own tunes; I always find ways that I might improve them, even though others like them. I don’t have an ego, about what I do. It’s all fun, like playing a video game to a kid. That’s why I can write one every couple of hours. I love to be part of the finished product, then sit back enjoying the fantastic musicianship of Nashville pickers on something I had a part of.

IC: Your song, ‘Love And Broken Hearts’, is charting in Europe right now, only this time you are the artist as well as writer. Tell us about that. Why did you decide to be a recording artist at this point in your life?

Roy: It wasn’t my idea! I was in the studio and stuck on a song, when I recalled some things that Judy Rodman said about voice control at an Indie Connect meeting. I put some of the things she taught into practice. I now have 2 records charting in Europe because of it. I never thought that I would have any songs that I sang myself on any charts, or be an artist with a record deal. It wasn’t even my idea! Universal Sound Records thought I might add a pop country style to a song that T Jae Christian and I wrote called ‘Love And Broken Hearts. And it worked. We also co-wrote, ‘When Your Heart Tells You It’s Time’ (To Love Again), which is also charting. It’s my second single.

T Graham Brown, a fantastic singer who I have always liked, just recorded ‘Love And Broken Hearts’ for his next single. He also recorded our song, ‘The Vanishing Breed’ as a duet with T Jae Christian.

I have 6 singles in the can. Shenandoah is singing back up on one by T Jae Christian that will be released later this year. And our song, “I Sang For The King’, is up for a Gospel award. So things are looking bright!

IC: What are your plans for the future?

Roy: I am not stopping. The future looks great right now. I have songs held for about 5 movies and new singles on Universal Sound Records in the can. 3 songs that I co-wrote with Tyson Bowman, an awesome singer, writer and musician, are on his debut CD. We co-wrote with Rand Bishop, which was really fun. Rand is a brilliant writer (Rand co-wrote ‘My List’, a #1 song for Toby Keith). Tyson’s future is stardom.

I have songs being cut by Charlene Anderson which I am very happy about! She is a great R&B and power ballad singer on Turtle Pond Records in Florida. Col. Walt Johnson is the label CEO and a co-writer. I have co-written over 150 songs with Michael Elley alone since October 09. Karen Lyu recently performed one of them, ‘Jazz In The Park’, at a studio concert that was broadcast worldwide on the net.

IC: Why would someone who has attained all that you have become a member of Indie Connect?

Roy: Indie Connect has helped me so much. The people I’ve met are so talented – probably much more than me – but they don’t mind showing you how to achieve your goals in the business. I’ve met amazing people such as Indie Connect founders, Vinny and Connie Ribas. I’ve met experts like Marc Alan Barnette, who teach you how to be a showman and how the Nashville Music business is conducted today. Marc is brilliant at it. I also met my friend and cowriter, Michael Elley, there. One project of ours is a future film called ‘How I Survived The Sixties’.

If you need help on a project, they’ll make sure you find it. Even old, hard-headed people like me learn so much at Indie Connect. I learned about song stops. Now Cannon films has 37 of them, and my song. ‘The Bad Zone’, has been targeted for a future cop movie. Without Indie Connect, NONE of this would have been possible. So, to whoever reads this, Indie Connect is the best move you’ll ever make towards realizing your dreams in the music industry. If it weren’t for Indie Connect, I would still be spending time teaching my cat to roll over and fetch a rubber mouse instead of having chart records.